Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Anger Management

| June 21, 2018

The Politics of Frustration in the Arab World and its Implications for the West

The Arab world is in the middle of a process of deep social and political change. The Future of Diplomacy Project's Rafael del Pino-MAEC Fellow, Ambassador José Antonio Sabadell's report explores the role that frustration can play in politics and political identities in the Arab world. As a former Ambassador and Head of the European Union Delegation to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and Head of Division for North Africa, Ambassador Sabadell also asked, how can Western policymakers determine and craft constructive responses.


The emergence of Arab peoples as key political actors, in combination with widespread, profound and mounting popular frustration, is a game changer. What Arab populations think and, crucially, how they feel, will determine the future evolution of their countries and of the region, and may call into question existing social contracts, the pertinence of present borders, the role of religion, the model of relations with the rest of the world, the sources of legitimacy and other basic components of political and social consensus.

The experience of the successive attempted revolutions across the Arab world clearly indicates that discontent with the current situation and a yearning for dignity and democracy can be the driving force behind powerful social and political demands. But there is also a significant risk that this impulse for change can be seized by extremist movements, who pump from the deep wells of frustration and hopelessness, channel those sentiments to provoke hate and resentment against the West and use the defense of Islam as a turbine to generate political energy...

If the West wants to play a constructive role, it must start by a critical examination of the wisdom and effectiveness of policies implemented since 2001. What is needed is not a new strategy, but a new mindset, that will translate into better understanding of the situation, better communication with Arab populations, and the formulation and implementation of better policies towards the region.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Future of Diplomacy Project
For Academic Citation: Sabadell, José Antonio. “Anger Management.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, June 21, 2018.

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